Google’s had a rocky and turbulent relationship with media representatives across the globe. In its latest conflict of interests with said bodies, it has looked to address the prospect of having to shell out money for snippets in Germany. How? Well it has now emerged it will make its news service opt-in for German publishers. Here, ClickThrough online copywriter Martin Boonham investigates what’s next for Google news in Germany… and just what the heck a snippet is anyway.

Google’s had something of a love/hate relationship with the European press and media of late.

It all boils down to the fact that many European newspaper and magazine publishers have grown frustrated by their inability to make more money from the Web. Within that frustration, many editors feel Google is to blame – mainly for giving content away for free in News searches.

The French, in particular, seemed adamant on taking the firm to task. The President himself, Francois Hollande, got drawn in to a row, strutting around saying he’d stick to his guns and push through laws to make Google pay – literally – for using French news content.

Fast forward a few months, and suddenly Hollande and Google’s Eric Schmidt are collectively slapping each other on the back and smiling for the cameras, with Google agreeing to a €60m “innovation fund” to sweeten French media types, by, essentially, paying them to shut up.

Interestingly, after France seemed to buckle under pressure (and the weight of all those euros); German media representatives took over the anti-News baton, claiming that such a deal would not cut the mustard.

“We won’t do a deal like that,” the unusually obstinate Germans insisted. “We want them to pay!”

Yet, according to the latest reports, Germany has now opted to water down its anger over Google News. While not striking a deal with the Internet giant as such, Germany will accept watered-down legislation, allowing Google to continue using snippets in the News results after all.

However – and this was the clincher – from August 1, 2013, Google will only index German news sources that have opted-in. (Typically, Google News is an opt-out service in the 60-odd countries it operates in).

German publishers will have to make sure they have their site set up correctly, or else face the prospect of being removed entirely from the index when August 1 comes around.

But, the crux is, Google will still not have to pay a licensing fee for the content. So, Google gets to continue returning German news results, with snippets, and German news providers will continue to get lots of free traffic from around the world, providing they keep up with the news agenda.

Win-win?

Well, it may not be so clear cut. Especially when it comes to the article “snippets” displayed under a News result.

The Leistungsschutzrecht ancillary copyright law, which is governing Germany’s approach to Google News, does not clearly specify what a snippet is.

It’s always helpful when a law is ambiguous.

So, is a snippet like a Tweet on the Twitter, with like, just 140 characters? Or is it something more substantial – like a first par introduction of 200 odd characters?

The fact news companies were ever riled by the use of snippets is a tad confusing to me anyway  – many good old-fashioned printed newspapers use little snippets on their front page to draw the reader in – as headlines don’t always do the trick on their own.

It seems that online, media companies are worried the presence of snippets might stop people from reading things in full, with readers instead happy to simply digest a tummy-full of newses direct from Google’s SERP.

But as British defamation law will tell you, people who don’t read a full news story (and gawp only at the headline/pic/intro), are not “right-thinking people”. So those skimmers aren’t worth worrying about.

We contacted the European Publishers Council, who have been particularly vocal on the matter, and they ultimately said it was the “unauthorised reuse and monetisation of content” that concerned them the most.

Google, they say, should pay the media for links, because the newspapers and magazines provide the material, creating a platform from which the Web giant can generate revenue.

The guys at Monday Note did an interesting breakdown on this however, using a few buzz words at the time.

They concluded that, with the exception of dominant American news topics such as “Hurricane Sandy” or the “presidential debate”, that actually very few search results actually bring back content coming from mainstream media.

This, they said, is because the web grows at such an exponential rate, and “Google rewards freshness of contents — as well as sharp SEO tactics – that “web native” media and specialised web sites perform much better than their elder “migrants”, that is web versions of traditional media.”

It makes sense, and as Monday Note puts it, “no one is putting ads against keywords such as “war in Syria” or against the 3.2 billion results of a “Hurricane Sandy” query. Indeed, in the curve of ad words value, news slides to the long tail.”

Therefore, at least according to them, there is not nearly as much money in News for Google as the media representatives clamouring for recompense seem to think.

Personally, I regularly use Google news as a way to check out headlines and news stories, but I then click through to read the story if it catches my eye.

Certainly, Google disagrees with the media representatives’ theories, and claims (quite rightly, it seems) to send literally millions of Internet browsers (including me) to the newspapers’ websites.

Google perhaps understandably feels backed into a corner – it has repeatedly said it will not pay to link to news articles, and has voiced concerns over this litigious copyright slavery as limiting the “open Internet” which it has long been an advocate of.

Will Google ever see completely eye-to-eye with media representatives?
Probably not – though not through lack of trying.

Does the traditional press need to focus more on Internet and web journalism moving forward?
Most definitely.

Whether the two can agree to something financially beneficial to both parties, however, remains as unclear as the Leistungsschutzrecht.

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About the author:

Martin Boonham is an online copywriter for ClickThrough Marketing, he has worked there since October 2012. He has a Masters in Print Journalism from Nottingham Trent University, where he also gained his NCTJ qualification at the same time; achieving qualifications in subbing, shorthand and media law.